Remembering the Polo Grounds

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There’s a great story by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times today, looking back at the history of the Polo Grounds.  Like many of the people quoted in is story, I was always struck by pictures of those wacko dimensions:

What stands out to fans and historians nearly 47 years since its demolition are its outfield dimensions, some of which changed with regularity. It was short down the lines (no more than 280 feet to left and 259 to right, and still shorter to the second decks); distant in the alleys (as much as 449 to one bullpen and 455 to the other); and as long as 505 to center field.

“That made it a strange ballpark,” said Jerry Liebowitz, a fan who began attending games there in 1943. “Someone like Johnny Mize hits it 450 to center field and it’s nothing but an out, but guys who couldn’t hit a damn were hitting pop-fly home runs to left and right.”

I used to play an old version of High Heat Baseball on my PC. There was a home run derby function on it, and you could choose the ballpark.  I would pick the Polo Grounds every time and use Barry Bonds, doing my best to yank line drives down the line.  It was wonderful.

My video game war stories aside, the Polo Grounds’ dimensions are important to keep in mind whenever people talk about the game being “transformed” by what went down in the 1990s.  The game has always had weird stuff about it, not the least of which have been oddball ballparks, rendering historical comparisons more of an art than a science.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.